For this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director, we’re featuring someone known for their work in a category that doesn’t always receive the same recognition as scripted content. Reality TV casting director Erin Tomasello is known for her work on series such as MasterChef, Let’s Make a Deal, and America’s Got Talent. She’s also received an Artios nomination for casting The Circle, and Tomasello virtually sat down with Casting Networks ahead of Netflix’s drop of the show’s fourth U.S. season on May 4 to provide a window into the person behind its cast. Keep reading for more on the casting director who made her own incredible comeback and now holds a passion for helping others tell their inspirational stories.
It’s great to virtually meet you, Erin, and I’d love to kick things off right at the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was the job for you?
I grew up in Truckee, California, which is a tiny little town in Lake Tahoe. My senior year of high school, there was this community calendar TV show that no one was volunteering to host. So, I stepped in to do it and had such a blast with the role. Being a part of the production just made me feel alive inside, and it coincided with a senior exit project that required me to write a paper on what I wanted to do for a living. The timing was perfect because it made me connect the dots and realize that I wanted to work in television. I wasn’t sure at that point what part of the industry I’d be in, though, and I ended up taking broadcast classes in college.
There’s a lot that goes into that area of study.
Yes, I learned everything from camera work to editing. And as a reporter, I got to go to all kinds of events, such as the World Series. I really gave it my all before moving down to Los Angeles, where I was this small-town girl with big dreams. I had a lot of broadcasting experience but no idea where I was going to get my foot in the door. I went on some pretty crazy interviews for positions that were way over my head. [Laughs] But then I landed this job to be a casting recruiter. It’s an entry-level position that’s still around to this day, and it basically entails going out and signing up people to be on a show. The first ones I worked on were MTV’s Date My Mom and Next — I’d hit the streets of Hollywood and approach people about being on the shows. I would prioritize the popular areas around clubs at night, and it could get a little crazy with all the drunk people. Once, I was standing outside a club with my clipboard to sign people up when a fight broke out. Security used pepper spray to break up the fight, and I ended up getting maced just by proximity.
Oh my goodness! That’s crazy.
[Laughs] I definitely had a moment of being like, “Is this job really for me?” But aside from that, I found the work to be so much fun and really loved doing it. I saved up $400 to buy an eMachine computer so that I could print out all the names of people I’d signed up the night before and send them over to my bosses at MTV. They appreciated the extra effort and told me I was their star casting recruiter. That was probably the moment when I realized that I truly loved casting, pepper spray incident and all.
It sounds like it was a real make-or-break situation! [Laughs] But in all seriousness, I read that you did come back from a place where you thought your career would be over forever. Would you be willing to share with our readers about that time?
Yes. Back in 2008, I was crossing the street in Long Beach, California when I was struck by a truck. I was thrown down by the impact and drug along, sustaining injuries that put me in the hospital for 30 days. Besides having full reconstruction on both my left knee and right ankle, my whole body was also scraped up and essentially just one big scab. The accident changed my life — I wasn’t sure if I could ever get back to being Erin again. I was put on permanent disability because of my injuries and thought I’d never be able to go back to work. But after two years spent recovering, I wanted to throw my hat back in the ring. I’ll never forget my first job coming back from the accident, which was Bravo’s Hitmakers. I’d previously worked for Randy Bernstein, who hired me for that first show back. I was a little nervous going into it, but I pushed through and got into the swing of things again. I had to essentially start back at the bottom and work my way up a second time, which I did. Casting kind of saved my life, though, because it got me off permanent disability after the accident and showed me I could be myself again.
Wow. I’d wager I’m not the only one inspired by your beautiful story. And now you’re an Artios-nominated casting director thanks to your work casting the U.S. seasons of The Circle. Congrats on all the show’s success and on the upcoming drop of its fourth season. What can you tell us about casting the series?
I’ll first say that I absolutely love what I do. Don’t get me wrong — I work my butt off — but I feel so lucky that my job is casting. And not only that, but I’ve been obsessed with reality TV since I was 12 years old and would record episodes of The Real World. Plus, when it comes to casting unscripted series, you get to meet real people and hear about real challenges they’ve overcome. It’s inspiring for me to hear, and I think the same goes for people watching the shows, as well. You know, sometimes when we view scripted TV, it can be hard to relate to the characters. But watching real people persevere through real problems can encourage those at home.
And it seems like you provide the opportunity for all different types of audience members to see themselves in the diverse and inclusive cast of The Circle.
I think that’s why the show is so special and stands out from other series. When I’ve cast dating shows in the past, for example, I was normally told to find women between the ages of 19 and 33 who had a specific appearance. But with The Circle, you don’t have to look any certain way, and we have people of all different ages on the show who are coming from a variety of different backgrounds. I get to cast everybody and anybody for it, and my priority is people that are relatable and inspirational. I think that’s why reality TV, in general, ended up being much more than a fad and led to some of the longest-running and most successful TV in history. People watch it because it has so much heart, thanks to the real stories from real individuals featured. I’m passionate about the genre as a whole — it’s time to change the narrative around reality TV because it has just as much worth as scripted shows.
I love hearing your passion for your work, and before we wrap, could you also share what you enjoy doing when you’re off the clock?
Well, I’m a mom and love being with my family. Some of our favorite things include travel and spending time outdoors. Work-life balance is so important — working yourself or your team nonstop is not glamorous to me. We may have the best job in the world, but there should always be boundaries in place to ensure that you still get to live life outside of work with your friends and family. I place a high value on that and also try to be a role model in how I treat people on my team. When it comes to working with people, regardless of their rank on the hierarchy, my rule is to show everyone respect. I’m going to treat my assistant the same way I would an executive producer.
Those interested in learning more about the casting director can find her on Instagram as @castingerin. And should you be interested in competing on the fifth U.S. season of The Circle, Tomasello let us know that her team is now taking applicants via the show’s official casting site.
This interview has been edited and condensed.